2015/2016: Extremes

On November 4 2015 the tenth edition of the CONGres was held at Amsterdam Science Park. The theme of the conference was ‘Extremes: explore the boundaries of life’.

Our speakers:
Michiel Leijnen MD.
Dr. Greg Wallace
Dr. Ir. Sander H. van Delden
PD, Dr. rer. nat. Claudia Catani
Prof. dr. Hein Daanen
Prof. dr. Marianne G. Rots
Dr. Mart van der Plas

Michiel Leijnen’s MD lecture:
Talking about Extremes: the Major Incident Hospital.
The Major Incident Hospital, located in the UMC Utrecht, is an internationally unique facility for providing immediate emergency care for casualties in exceptional circumstances. It is the result of co-operation between the Ministry’ of Defense’s Central Military Hospital and the UMC Utrecht. The combination of a large academic medical institution, a military hospital, a trauma centre and the National Poison and Control Centre (NVIC), the Major Incident Hospital offers not only superb infrastructure, but also the expertise required to provide emergency care in case of disaster and calamity. The Major Incident Hospital (8000 m2) consists of an intensive care department (12 beds), a medium/low care department (50 beds), two low care departments (totalling 200 beds), three operation theatres with recovery, an X-ray unit and a triage and treatment room (35 beds). The Emergency Response Programme describes the procedures for admitting 100 patients within 30 minutes. Under exceptional circumstances, this can be extended to 300 patients. The procedures for dealing with family and the media is also covered in the Emergency Response Programme.

Dr. Greg Wallace’s lecture:
Special Abilities and Autism
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are associated with a remarkable combination of cognitive strengths and difficulties. The same individual may struggle to express or understand speech, while demonstrating amazingly good memory for routes, or fantastic understanding of mechanical systems. In some cases, special abilities are so pronounced that they are considered so-called ‘savant skills’ or ‘islands of genius.’ The current talk will discuss the association between talent and ASD and what might be driving this relationship.

Dr. Ir. Sander H. van Delden’s lecture:
Plants in space: crop cultivation under extreme conditions.
Humans explore, that’s in our nature. Throughout the history of humankind we are driven to visit remote and distant places on earth and even our moon. Expeditions to unvisited extreme environments, like Mars, need years of preparation. It involves creation of spacecrafts and extra-terrestrial structures to survive the extreme conditions. Plants are excellent organisms to support humans during long-term habitation of these extra-terrestrial structures. Plants provide food, oxygen and above all comfort in the artificial habitats. But how feasible is space farming? And what lessons can be learned from space research to enhance cultivation systems on Earth?

PD, Dr. rer. nat. Claudia Catani’s lecture:
Terror in the Brain – Neurobiological Consequences of Extreme Stress
Traumatic life events such as child abuse, war and torture experiences or natural disasters are accompanied by an automated defence response that includes typical alterations of both, peripheral as well as central nervous system mechanisms. Even though this immediate stress response is essential for survival, it is associated with long-term changes in neurobiological activity and structures that are supposed to cause trauma-related psychological disorders, in particular Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The present talk will present research findings referring to this and especially focus on recent studies investigating the processing of threat cues in survivors of extreme stress. Finally, I will discuss evidence that psychological treatment of patients with PTSD can reverse neurophysiological abnormalities.

Prof. dr. Hein Daanen’s lecture:
Keeping the head cool in thermal extremes
Temperatures in our planet range from about –90 to +60 degrees Centigrade. Humans live and work even in those extreme climates. In extreme cold, behavioural adaptations are essential, while in extreme heat physiological adaptations are considerable. When the physiological and/or behavioural adaptations are inadequate, hypo- or hyperthermia may result. It will be shown that even mild hyperthermia during exercise in the heat has a detrimental effect on sports performance. Therefore, elite athletes are currently focusing more on precooling than warm-ups. The presentation will give an overview of human thermal capabilities and limitations in extreme heat and cold.

Prof. dr. Marianne G. Rots’s lecture:
The Reprogrammable Genome
The genome refers to the genetic information of an organism, which is the same in most cells of this organism. To give rise to the many different cell types of an organism, different sets of genes are stably expressed in these different cell types. This cell identity is controlled by epigenetic mechanisms which  include chemical modifications to the DNA molecule itself as well as to the proteins the DNA is wrapped around (so called histones). Professor Rots establishes technologies to rewrite such epigenetic instructions allowing reprogramming of genome functioning. Such epigenetic editing approaches open novel avenues to obtain cures for currently uncurable diseases.

Dr. Mart van der Plas’s lecture:
Extreme altitude, a search for oxygen
On May 8, 1978 Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first to climb to the top of Mount Everest (8848 m) without supplemental oxygen. Prior to this ascent it was disputed by many physicians and scientists whether this would be possible at all. At the summit oxygen tension is less than one-third of that at sea level. An acute exposure to such low oxygen tensions would be fatal. So the body has to acclimatize. How can the body do this, what are the mechanisms and what can the medical field learn from these extreme altitude exposures. During this lecture I would like to tell you a little about the way a body can cope with exposure to extreme hypoxia both acute and prolonged. We will look not only at the risk of not acclimatizing, but also at risks of acclimatization itself.